Suspected US missiles kill 14 in Pakistan

Attacked site is Taliban redoubt, officials say

By Munir Ahmad
Associated Press / April 2, 2009
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ISLAMABAD - A suspected US drone fired two missiles yesterday at an alleged hide-out connected to a Taliban leader who has threatened to attack Washington, officials said. The attacks killed 14 people and wounded several others.

The attack occurred a day after Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a police academy in the eastern city of Lahore, saying it was retaliation for US missile strikes on militant strongholds along the Afghan border. Mehsud also vowed to launch an attack on Washington or even the White House in phone interviews with The Associated Press and local media.

The FBI, however, said he had made similar threats previously and that there was no indication of anything imminent.

A local intelligence official told the Associated Press that the compound attacked yesterday in a remote area of the Orakzai tribal region near the Afghan border belonged to one of Mehsud's commanders.

Up to 30 suspected militants were at the compound when it was hit, and the Taliban have moved the dead and injured to an undisclosed location, he said.

The strike is believed to be the first in Orakzai, another sign the United States is expanding its attack zone.

Since the United States escalated its missile campaign starting in August, most of the estimated three dozen strikes have landed in the North and South Waziristan tribal regions where Mehsud is strongest. However, those attacks appear to have primarily focused on Al Qaeda hideouts.

Mehsud's deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud, is in charge of Taliban operations in Orakzai. Late yesterday, he called an AP reporter who has spoken to him before and is familiar with his voice, to threaten a revenge attack on Pakistan's capital.

"Very soon we will strike in Islamabad in a way that everyone there will feel pain," he said, adding that Pakistan's ruling lawmakers will be targets. "We will strike at the leadership, processions and public meetings of the ruling parties because they are also pro-US."

The strike in Orakzai killed 14 people, said local official Ghazni Gul.

Two senior intelligence officials said they believed the dead included close associates of Baitullah Mehsud.

But it was difficult to confirm the exact identities of those involved because the Taliban surrounded the area shortly after the attack, they said.

The intelligence officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Liaquat Ali, a local government official in Orakzai, confirmed the attack but could not provide casualty figures or the identities of those targeted.

Pakistan has publicly protested the attacks, calling them a violation of its sovereignty.

But President Obama's administration has signaled it has no intention of backing off. Officials say the strikes have killed top Al Qaeda figures.